As COVID-19 hospitalizations increase, Central Texas hospitals reinstate ‘no visitors’ policy

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge in Texas, Central Texas hospitals have reinstated a “no visitation” policy on order to control the spread of the virus.

According to document outlining the visitor guidelines, provided to KXAN by a patient’s family, St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center implemented the rules as of June 18.

The document obtained by KXAN reads, “St. David’s Healthcare remains focused on safety efforts regarding coronavirus (COVID-19). In an abundance of caution, we have implemented visitor restrictions within St. David’s Healthcare facilities for the safety of our patients, visitors, staff, and the community to control the spread of the virus.”

A spokesperson for Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David’s Healthcare confirmed the ‘no visitors’ policy had been implemented at all three healthcare systems.

Their joint statement read in part, “While we understand the importance of having the support of loved ones during a hospital visit or stay, we must continue to prioritize the health and safety of our patients and caregivers during this unprecedented pandemic. We encourage support persons to use alternate methods of communication to stay in contact with loved ones, such as phone calls, video chats or texting.”

They noted that exceptions would be made for laboring and post-partum patients, patients with disabilities or impairments, elderly patients, patients in the neonatal ICU and pediatric units, patients requiring surgery, and patients requiring end-of-life care.

“One caregiver 18 years or older may accompany these patient populations; the visitor must pass our previously established health-screening criteria upon entrance into the facility and must wear a mask while in our facilities,” the joint statement read.

The spokesperson also noted that Ascension Seton will continue to allow visitors at Dell Children’s Medical Center.

The daughter of one St. David’s patient said her mother went in for a surgical procedure and is now recovering at the hospital.

“She did have some complications and is very sick now,” her daughter explained. “We are not getting all of our questions answered when we call.”

Within days after her mother’s procedure, the new rule was implemented banning visitors. She said her family understands that hospital personnel are busy trying to care for patients, but said it’s scary being left in the dark.

“We just feel like we would be better off if one of us could be in the room with her at all times,” her daughter said. “I understand the seriousness of COVID-19. I understand the hospital is trying to prevent that, but at the same time it is very, very frustrating for our family. It just happened so fast.”

Dr. Diana Fite, president of the Texas Medical Association, told KXAN they’ve seen many hospitals and even smaller medical practices across the state adjust their visitation policies in the last few weeks, as cases began to spike.

“As of a couple weeks ago, most of the hospitals were allowing patients to have one visitor per day, maybe for limited hours, but I see that backing off now,” Dr. Fite explained. “We’re worried that as it’s increasing, we don’t need the extra exposure from visitors.”

She went on, “The medical community is definitely concerned.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Fite said she, along with the physicians their association represents, are not surprised to see a spike in cases.

“I think everybody expected that as more and more people got together. You’ll see pictures of multiple people at various events, shoulder-to-shoulder, many without masks on. That’s just not going to work until we have a treatment or vaccinations for this virus,” she said. “We are essentially begging Texans to please take this seriously.”

She said she understood how hard, even “disturbing” it can be for family members to not be by their loved ones side in the hospital, but emphasized how these rules are in place for everyone’s safety.

She emphasized there should be exceptions to the rule, especially for patients recovering from surgery who may need assistance in asking follow-up questions or getting their discharge instructions.

“A person who has just been sedated or under anesthesia is not going to be able to remember those instructions, but another alternative is a nurse can take them out to meet the car outside,” she explained. “They might give the instructions there.”

In other cases, she’s seen providers helping facilitate calls or video chats between patients and families.

“Nobody is trying to make it harder. Everybody is trying to be as safe as possible,” Dr. Fite said.

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